The Office Personality Testing Edition
On teams, behavior, and pseudoscience
Noah here. I’ve always been pretty turned off by office personality testing. Some part of it is clearly my own personality and its desire not to be boxed into a set of letters or colors. Somewhere in my gut, I’m also a little afraid that I’ll buy into my office personality and let it dictate my behavior.
But mostly, I think it’s nonsense.
An excellent New York Times piece from 2019, “Personality Tests Are the Astrology of the Office,” summed up the growth and appeal of these tests well:
Personality assessments short-circuit the messiness of building what is now referred to as a “culture.” They deliver on all the complexities of interpersonal office dynamics, but without the intimate, and expensive, process of actually speaking with employees to determine their quirks and preferences.
They appeal also, perhaps, for the same reason astrology, numerology and other hocus-pocus systems do: because it’s fun to divide people into categories.
Why is this interesting?
This isn’t much evidence to suggest Myers-Briggs-style personality testing is effective. With that said, there’s also not a lot of specific evidence to suggest it’s not. Like many things in the corporate world, the research just doesn’t seem particularly good. A 2017 meta-analysis of the reliability of Myers-Briggs assessments came up pretty empty:
Out of 221 studies of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, only seven studies met their criteria for inclusion: four looking at validity and three at reliability. The four validity studies concluded that individual Myers-Briggs scores do seem to correlate well with one another and/or other personality measures, although the studies were too different to allow their results to be combined (as is usually done for meta-analysis). The three reliability studies concluded that the correlation between an individual’s score on different sittings of the same test is generally good (r=0.7–0.8), although almost all were conducted on college students, who are not necessarily representative of the general population.
Part of what bugs me about these tests is their pseudoscientific nature and their introduction of untrained psychologists into the workplace. While I have seen the value of activities that help teams better understand each other and get aligned, diagnosing people with a personality test and then using that to make decisions always felt misguided. There is a not more nuance (and volatility) at play to human interactions. And that is what makes things interesting. (NRB)
McSweeney’s Personality Test of the Day:
The Michael Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is an assessment to help people determine how they perceive the world and make decisions about silently stabbing innocent teenagers while wearing a hideous rubber mask. The MMBTI is structured around four dichotomies that each describe a different element of one’s stabbing-related behavior and preferences.
It’s important to keep in mind that no Michael Myers-Briggs Type is the “correct” one—every style of silent, masked stabbing spree is equally valid. Instead, use your type as a jumping-off point to honestly reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, as well as just your personal preferences for how you enjoy to ruthlessly murder.
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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